A common theme that has come up during my Latinx Leadership Program meetings is that people in our community have been silenced and marginalized for far too long. The system was not built for us and has not done nearly enough to include us, so I have been emphasizing that we have to work on breaking our silence in order to renovate the system into one that serves us. We have to act out, get selfish and actually be the ones to put ourselves over the privileged for a change. Have you ever known what that feels like? Have you ever had to engage and challenge bureaucratic systems just so they serve you and meet your needs? Whether you realize it or not, we are all facing the inequity and degradation that come at the hands of corporate interests preventing us from being able to adopt sustainable practices into our daily lifestyles.

All of us, whether or not we belong to a distinguished ethnic group, experience discrimination every day simply due to the strain of money. Our lives have become dictated by money, and corporations continue to make it harder for us to earn and keep it for ourselves. We are forced by the system to overpay for necessities and are punished when we don’t have enough of the money it takes from us. As an example, rising costs of rent and health care have been contributing to growing financial insecurity in a third of middle class American families, thousands of which are criminalized because of the money they owe back. In one way or another, people are burdened by the fact that they have to pay and it is especially alarming when these burdens affect our needs.

With a looming climate catastrophe in our lifetimes, it is undeniable that sustainable practices have become a necessity. And yet, not only are corporations themselves contributing to the acceleration of that catastrophe through unsustainable practices, but they are also preventing people from being able to mitigate catastrophic effects by limiting what we are able to buy. Several corporations have made it harder for people to do their part, whether that be investing in clean energy, adopting sustainable food practices or taking part in land preservation.

For instance, DTE Energy has formed a program called MIGreenPower in an effort to more cleanly source energy. The program allows customers to enroll in a service that provides a portion of their energy from renewable sources and a portion of their energy from nonrenewable sources. Conveniently, customers have the option of making a percentage of their energy bill from renewable sources, but the catch is that it costs more to do so. In this way, this program is completely counterproductive and flawed.

If the average household in Michigan uses about 750 kilowatt-hours of energy per month and chose to convert about 58 percent of their monthly bill to renewable energy, this would add approximately $11 onto their average monthly bill. While this is arguably a modest price increase, this alone creates an environmental benefit of reducing only about half the amount of greenhouse gases from one car and planting about 74 trees. One can argue this is a substantial step towards the improvement of environmental quality, but we all know that these reductions are not enough to have the effect necessary to save our planet. In fact, even if the average household in Michigan were to convert 100 percent of their monthly bill to renewable energy, the resulting beneficial effects on the environment would still not be enough to solve the global climate issue. While it’s not entirely up to DTE Energy to be responsible for saving our planet by committing to accessible sustainable practices, I know that the effects of their initiatives would be that much more far-reaching if they eliminated the financial burden they pose.

Similarly, some organic food companies have demonstrated their commitment toward sustainable practices and products by setting high standards, but without the understanding that collective sustainability is only possible if it can be implementable and accessible. What if I wanted to do something better for the environment but couldn’t afford to? Is it my fault for not being able to adopt green practices with my low-income budget? How am I supposed to care for my family and think about humanity’s future when I don’t make enough money to do both? These are the questions that DTE Energy and other corporations are not asking themselves.

From the perspective of a marginalized community member, we are often thought to be incapable or undeserving of an opportunity to challenge our authorities. Instead, we are expected to be content with those who claim to serve us, but this is not the case. We know we deserve the chance to rise to the challenges our system places in front of us and we should not be marginalized as communities any longer. From our perspective as people challenged by the capitalist system that values money over our and the environment’s well-being, we have to know that we deserve better from our society. Corporations feed off of our susceptibility to the comfort of convenience and desire for laid-back lifestyles, but you have to know that you are capable of achieving more and you are only held back by those you place in power who limit you. We should not be limited to what we can and can’t do because of money any longer. We need to fight today because in the end, when we still have needs that are not met after all the system offers us, not only has the system failed us but we have also failed ourselves for not demanding more from it.

Kianna Marquez can be reached at kmarquez@umich.edu.

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